Ark Aid is working on a ‘way forward’ with the city to get around the zoning infraction

Ark Aid Street Mission says it is working with the city to resolve a zoning issue at its temporary downtown host.

Mission leaders and its partner, First Baptist Church, met with city officials Tuesday morning after receiving bylaw enforcement notice of an apparent zoning violation at the Richmond Street Church. Ark Aid executive director Sarah Campbell said the conversation led to a call to move forward.

“We are working with the city to make this response meet their burden and ensure continuity of services,” Campbell said.

On Friday, Campbell and church pastors said they were surprised to learn that complaints had been submitted to the settlement, resulting in an order requesting a zoning amendment or the termination of services by October 4.

The notice stated that the church is zoned as a place of worship, while the use of the space to provide mission services is equated with the operation of a meeting hall. The mission was left with three options: allow the church to assume custody and control of the services, pursue the amendment, or find another location.

“A teachable moment” on the role of religious communities

On Monday, news of the settlement notice sparked a backlash from members of London’s religious communities. A minister refused to allow his church to be used as a polling station, pointing out that churches often rented space to community groups for classes, meetings and gatherings.

Reverend Kevin George of St. Aidan’s Anglican Church has started a petition calling on the town to support First Baptist’s hosting of Ark Aid and its services for homeless people.

« I think this particular episode provided us with a teachable moment. It was an opportunity to say, wait a minute, are we aware of what the churches are doing in our community? » said George.

« Do we understand the far-reaching consequences of treating the church like the local business community and saying here are the boxes to tick and if you don’t fill them in you have to hire consultants and figure it all out? That’s not who we are. »

He and other members of faith communities have been asked to participate in an upcoming bylaw review after Tuesday’s meeting with the city, he said.

Homeless and hungry people line up for dinner outside the Richmond Street Church on September 27, 2022. (Angela McInnes/CBC)

The October 4 deadline has now been lifted, Campbell said, and defining what can happen in a place of worship is now part of a wider discussion as Ark Aid works on its appeal.

“Today was a red day to show that the collaboration between community organizations, faith communities and the city, that in fact if we talk to each other and we are not as reactive to concerns, but more proactive around needs, we can really make a big difference,” she said.

Patti McKague, director of strategic communications and community engagement for the City of London, confirmed in an email that the city is working to address the issue through its bylaw enforcement process.

Ark Aid has leased space from First Baptist Church as it strives to raise the million dollars needed to complete renovations to its Dundas Street location. It provides nightly meals, showers and other services to up to 400 people per day.


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